Writing Tips, Tricks, Thoughts for the Week Ahead

September 9

Birthdays: Leo Tolstoy (1828), Mary Hunter Austin (1868), James Hilton (1900)

Phyllis Whitney (1903), Leon Edel (1907), Paul Goodman (1911), Bernard Bailyn (1922), Pamela Des Barres (1948), Bob Shacochis (1951), Kimberly W. Holt (1960s), Aleksandar Hemon (1964)

Quote: When you meet powerful men or just read about them in the newspapers, you see that they don’t have a sense of boundaries.” – Bob Shacochis

“Some people are just afraid of what’s different. It doesn’t mean different is bad. It just means different is different. ”― Kimberly Willis Holt, My Louisiana Sky

“You decide which characters you want and then do the best you can to bring their humanity to the forefront in the context that you place them in – the crises in which you’ve placed them.” – Bob Shacochis

Tip: Avoid vague words like usually, pretty, very, just. (She was very pretty vs. She was beautiful vs. She was Aphrodite made flesh.)

Jumpstart: “It was worth a try,” he said as he shrugged.

September 10

Birthdays: Hannah Webster Foster (1758), Georgia Douglas Johnson (1880), Carl Van Doren (1885), Franz Werfel (1890), Cyril Connolly (1903), Charles Kuralt (1934), Mary Oliver (1935), Jared Diamond (1937), Stephen J. Gould (1941), Neale Donald Walsch (1943), Bill O’Reilly (1949), Andrei Makine (1957), Marian Keyes (1963)

Carl Van Doren won the 1939 Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Benjamin Franklin.

Charles Kuralt was a traveling journalist famous for his “On the Road” series on TV and in books.

Mary Oliver was an American poet who won both the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize.

Quote: “The story begins when things change. The adventure begins when things go wrong.” – Dennis McKiernan

Tip: On the first page, you should have the answers to three questions: Whose story is this? (main character) What’s happening? What’s at stake?

Jumpstart: You work at a pet shop and arrive in the morning to find cages opened and animals everywhere—including the snakes—what happens next?

September 11

Birthdays: O. Henry (1862), D.H. Lawrence (1885), Jessica Mitford (1917), William X. Kienzle (1928), Thomas K. McCraw (1940), James McBride (1957), Andre Dubus III (1959), Philip Ardagh (1961),

Thomas McCraw won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for History for “Prophets of Regulation”

O. Henry is most famous for his short story “The Gift of the Magi”.

Quote: “Write while the heat is in you. The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with. He cannot inflame the minds of his audience.” – Henry David Thoreau

“I’ll give you the whole secret to short story writing. Here it is: Rule 1: Write stories that please yourself. There is no rule 2.” O. Henry

Tip: Hang in there and keep going. Dr. Seuss’ first children’s book And to Think that I saw it on Mulberry Street was rejected by twenty-seven publishers. The twenty-eighth—Vanguard Press—sold six million copies.

Jumpstart: Describe in detail a perfect day.

September 12

Birthdays: Charles Dudley Warner (1829), HL Mencken (1880), Marya Zaturenska (1902), Stanislaw Lem (1921), Kristin Hunter (1931), Michael Ondaatje (1943), Valerie Tripp (1951), James Frey (1969),

H.L. Mencken was known for writing “The American Language”, a study of vernacular American English

Marya Zaturenska won the 1938 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

Stanislaw Lem was best known for his novel “Solaris”, adapted into film three times.

Michael Ondaatje is best known for his novel “The English Patient”

Quote: “Most writers enjoy only two brief periods of happiness. First when what seems like a glorious idea comes flashing into mind and, secondly, when a last page has been written and you have not yet had time to consider how much better it all ought to have been.” – J.B. Priestly

Tip: Avoid empty adverbs: actually, totally, absolutely, completely, constantly, literally, really, etc. Replace them with stronger verbs. (I really want some chocolate vs. I crave some chocolate. Better yet: Her craving for chocolate overcame her willpower.)

Jumpstart: You’ve just been named ruler of the world. What do you do?

September 13

Birthdays: Daniel Defoe (1660), John J. Pershing (1860), Sherwood Anderson (1876), JB Priestley (1894), Roald Dahl (1916), Carol Kendall (1917), Else Holmelund Minarik (1920), Mildred Taylor (1943), Iyanla Vanzant (1952), E. Lockhart (1967),

John J. Pershing, an American General in WWI, won the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for History for “My Experiences in the World War”

Roald Dahl was best known for his children’s books, but he also adapted two of Ian Flemin’gs works to screen: “You Only Live Twice” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”

Carol Kendall’s book “The Gammage Cup” was a Newbery Honor book

Mildred Taylor’s book “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” won the 1977 Newbery Medal

Quote: “If you spend your time saying ‘I’m never going to finish this book’, you probably won’t.” – Marylee Woods

Tip: Don’t modify things that shouldn’t be modified: very unique, slightly impossible, mostly alone, endlessly eternal. Unique, impossible, alone, eternal and other words like them are ultimate words. Nothing else is necessary to explain them. If someone is alone, there is no one else with him. If another joins him, he is no longer alone.

Jumpstart: Write about something you desperately wanted one time in your life and didn’t get. What would be different if you had?

September 14

Birthdays: Hamlin Garland (1860), William H. Armstrong (1914), Eric Bentley (1916), Larry Collins (1929), Anne Bernays (1930), Bernard MacLaverty (1942), Marc Reisner (1948), Elizabeth Winthrop (1948), Diane Goode (1949), John Steptoe (1950), Geraldine Brooks (1955), Henrietta Rose-Innes (1971),

William Armstrong is best known for his Newbery Medal winner “Sounder”

Geraldine Brooks on the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel “March”

Quote: “No writer was ever born published.” – J. Martin

“Provoke the reader. Astonish the reader. Writing that has no surprises is as bland as oatmeal. Surprise the reader with the unexpected verb or adjective. Use one startling adjective per page.” – Anne Bernays

Tip: Things to include on your author website: A books page (including buy links, reviews, etc.), a page for series; a bio page (about you), contact page, links.

Jumpstart: Write about a vacation you took where everything that could go wrong, did. What happened? What did you do?

September 15

Birthdays: Francois de La Rochefoucauld (1680), James Fenimore Cooper (1789), Agatha Christie (1890), Jean Renoir (1894), Merle Curti (1897), Betty Neels (1909), Robert McCloskey (1914), Alfred D. Chandler, Jr. (1918), Richard Gordon (1921), Tomie dePaola (1934), Normal Spinrad (1940), Jesse Andrews (1982)

Merle Curti won the 1944 Pulitzer Prize in History for “The Growth of American Thought”

Quote: “There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you’re writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.” – Agatha Christie

Tip: Beware of anyone who says “this is the only way to get published.” There are many ways, including self-publishing. No one way works for everyone. In fact, many authors use multiple ways. The thing to stay away from is “vanity publishing” – those places that make you pay thousands of dollars to “publish” your book and then don’t produce anything or it’s of such poor quality that it can’t be used. Do your homework. Check out who to work with.

Jumpstart: You have to evacuate your home. What do you take? Would it make a difference if you had an hour or two vs. a few minutes?

September 16

Birthdays: Alfred Noyes (1880), Frans Eemil Sillanpaa (1888), H.A. Rey (1898), John Knowles (1926), Jules Bass (1935), Breyten Breytenbach (1939), James Alan McPherson (1943),  Julia Donaldson (1948), William McKeen (1954), Wil McCarthy (1966), Elizabeth McCracken (1966), Walt Becker (1968), Justin Haythe (1973)

Frans Sillanpaa won the 1939 Nobel Prize for Literature – the first Finnish author to do so.

H.A. Rey is best known for his “Curious George” books (along with his wife)

James McPherson was the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1978 for his short story collection “Elbow Room”

Alfred Noyes is best known for his poem “The Highwayman”

Quote: “I get ideas anywhere and everywhere: things that happen to my children; memories of my own childhood; things people say; places I go to; old folk tales and fairy stories. The hard part for me is not getting the idea, it is turning it into a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.” – Julia Donaldson

Tip: Write to your own strengths. You may love comedy or funny cozy mysteries, but not everyone can write funny. Or horror. Or romance. Figure out what you’re good at and go from there.